Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

The Children's Hour, Part 2: Can Facebook Apps Grow Up?


Yes, I meant it when I said that too much of the Facebook environment these days was like being present at a loud Wiggles concert in the kid mosh pit–and I have been there, so believe me.


Except, in the case of the hot social network, the Wiggles never ever stop wiggling. Or SuperPoking. Or Cartoonifying. Or inundating me with digital picture gifts of “giraffe love” (I could not make this up, you realize, as you can see here).

Yesterday, I did a long post on the fact that most Facebook apps, also called widgets, are startlingly juvenile and mostly banal.

My gripe was the lack of truly useful apps from either Facebook or the legions of third-party developers that it allowed onto its fast-growing platform to offer all sorts of services in the form of apps.

As I said yesterday, millions upon millions of people are downloading and using these apps, riding on the back of Facebook’s own hypergrowth to 45 million active monthly users.

Active maybe, but doing what, I wondered? A whole lot of nothing, which is the problem.

As I wrote:

And if that is all there is, can Facebook really build a viable and long-lasting business on what is essentially a bunch of games that will ultimately become wearying for users? Doesn’t it need more robust apps that actually are useful and relevant and make Facebook the service that [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg has often told me was a ‘utility’?”

I have been thinking about that a lot, actually, since I started a Facebook group for our D: All Things Digital conference and our AllThingsD.com site not long ago. Not surprisingly, quite quickly, the group grew to almost 2,500 members.

We use all the group tools available to us (not much!) like: posting video and text from the daily site and posting photos from D and allowing discussions (mostly moribund as most message boards are these days). I do find the Wall feature a somewhat useful means of communication for that group.

After that, we fall right off a cliff. You can’t email your group members for events or to alert them to cool stuff, there is no version of the very amazing news-feed feature and there is no way to make it feel more interactive.

It’s like throwing a party, having everyone show up and then offering no food, drinks, music or coat check.

My hope was to create a digital version or, at least, feeling of our D conference. That event is successful, I think, because people like the big names, but mostly because people really value the interactions and the community there (also the cupcakes are most excellent at the Four Seasons Aviara).

There is none of that on our D group and there are no widgets allowed yet either in groups.

Not that I would want to subject our members to those apps, which I noted were useless to people with real stuff to do all day and in need of relevant ways to leverage an obviously viral site like Facebook.

As I wrote yesterday, do I want to SuperPoke Digg CEO Jay Adelson? No thanks!


Or do I want to Vampire Bite blogger Arianna Huffington? Maybe Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger does, but not me.


Or perhaps do I want to pop virtual zits with former Yahoo COO Dan Rosensweig? Well, maybe that would rock!


In point of fact, I don’t exactly know what I want to do with this group. But I know I have assembled a powerful and influential group of tech’s brightest stars and I have nothing to offer them.

So I would love products from developers and from Facebook and I want them to surprise me with innovation and not har-har-de-har apps.

Because I don’t get the joke and all I know is a good social network is a terrible thing to waste.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik